By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Kentucky needs to be very careful going into Saturday’s game with the Tennessee Volunteers. They don’t want to let LSU beat them twice.
You know what I mean. So many times an unexpected, emotional loss can carry over into the next game. Especially a game as important as this one with the Volunteers.
It happens all the time in college basketball. Auburn is a prime example.
The Tigers played UK in Auburn in mid-January. They brought a 13-3 record and a No. 14 ranking into the game against the 12th-ranked Wildcats. After losing 82-80 in a very emotional game to UK, the Tigers saw their stock plummet. They lost the next two games to a good but not great South Carolina team by 3 and then by eight points to a 22nd ranked Mississippi State team. Auburn’s hangover from the UK loss destroyed some of its confidence and caused them to take a step back.
Calipari’s Cats cannot afford to do that. Not at this point in the season. UK has already probably put any shot at the SEC regular season title out of reach with losses to Alabama and LSU. If the Wildcats take a step back and lose to a very good No. 1 ranked Tennessee team at home, with a return game coming up in Knoxville, they can also count themselves out of any remote possibility of an NCAA Tournament 1-seed and will most likely be playing as a two or three seed in the NCAA Tournament in a region not close to home.
Not a scenario that Cat fans want to see. So beating a very talented, disciplined Volunteer team that has only lost one game is a tall order.
John Calipari has already said that UT will be a tough out. “Tennessee is just so good,” the UK coach said. “They don’t beat themselves. They play efficient on both sides. They’re physical. They’re experienced. They’ve got older players.”
He is 100 percent correct. Tennessee is a team that UK would have a difficult time beating if the Cats were playing their best. They can’t afford to still be thinking about what went wrong against LSU when they walk onto that Rupp Arena floor on Saturday night.
To get back on track UK needs to remember what got it to a No. 5 ranking. Good, solid team defense that turns teams over and gives them an opportunity to get some quick, easy points on the offensive end and focusing on scoring in the paint — a definite strength of this team. If they can’t get back into the groove of playing lock-down defense against the Volunteers and scoring down low with post ups and offensive put backs it will be a long night in Lexington.
They have to be focused on the game at hand. Senior Reid Travis said that he didn’t think UK’s attention to detail was there in the second half against LSU and that the Cats didn’t match the Tigers intensity during that same second half of the two-point loss.
Kentucky can’t afford any kind of a letdown, hangover, pity party or whatever else you might want to call it for the game Saturday against the Volunteers. If they follow in Auburn’s footsteps and lose some confidence they will find themselves on the wrong end of a two-game losing streak.